The 2015 college football season is just around the corner. After spending countless hours breaking down each team and each conference, I’ve put together my predictions for the upcoming year. Below you will find a quick breakdown of each conference with my projected champion, as well as my 2015 college football playoff predictions and preseason Top 25. I’ve also included a table with links to each conference, where you will find team-by-team projections and links to individual team previews.
After winning 7 straight national championships, the SEC has now gone back-to-back years without a team claiming the No. 1 spot in the country. While the other power 5 conferences have shown they have elite teams at the top that can matchup with the best the SEC has to offer, there’s no denying that the SEC is hands down the best conference in the country. In fact, 8 of my Top 25 teams reside in the SEC.
Last year both Ole Miss and Mississippi State surprised in the loaded SEC West, but both gave way to eventual champion Alabama. It’s anyone’s guess who will take down the West in 2015, as you could make a strong argument for all 7 teams. However, I believe it will the Crimson Tide that defend their title. Alabama has what should be the best defense in the country and I look for the offense to be better than what people are expecting. While Auburn is a popular pick to win the West for those not taking Alabama, two teams that I think could be sleepers are Arkansas and Texas A&M. As for the SEC East, I’m going out on a limb and picking Tennessee to win the division over the consensus favorite in Georgia.
SEC Champion: Alabama Crimson Tide
It wasn’t that long ago that the Big Ten was getting ripped by the media for how bad they were, but those talks were put to rest last season. Ohio State surprised everyone by winning the first ever college football playoff and did so with their 3rd string quarterback. The Buckeyes weren’t the only elite team out of the conference, as Michigan State finished in the Top 5 at year’s end with an overall record of 10-2 (only 2 losses to Oregon and Ohio State).
While there’s a couple of quality teams that make up the Big Ten West in Wisconsin and Nebraska, I think most would agree that the conference champion will come from the East. Both Ohio State and Michigan State look to be just as strong as they were a year ago, Penn State should be greatly improved in the 2nd year under James Franklin and Michigan could be a major sleeper with the offseason addition of head coach Jim Harbaugh.
While I do have some concern with Ohio State suffering a letdown after winning it all, I just don’t know how you pick against the Buckeyes to win the Big 10 in 2015.
Big Ten Champion: Ohio State Buckeyes
The Big 12 has to feel like they got the raw end of the deal last year. Both TCU and Baylor finished the regular season 11-1 and tied a top the conference standings at 8-1. Baylor won the head-to-head matchup 61-58, overcoming a 21-point 4th quarter deficit. The problem was that the committee saw TCU as the better team, but instead of picking one over the other, both were left out.
Needless to say, the Horned Frogs and Bears will be two of the most motivated teams in the country in 2015 and both have the talent to get back in the playoff mix. While most have the Big 12 being a 2-team race between Baylor and TCU, don’t sleep on Oklahoma State and Oklahoma making it a 4-way battle for the top spot. Due to the fact that the Horned Frogs get to host the Bears, I have TCU pegged to win the Big 12 and earn a spot in the 4-team playoff.
Big 12 Champion: TCU Horned Frogs
It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Florida State defend their ACC title and post an undefeated record in 2014, but it was the way in which they did it. After completely dominating the opposition in 2013, the Seminoles had to rally on countless occasions to stay unbeaten. It finally caught up to them in the playoffs, where they lost to Oregon 20-59.
Florida State will once again be the consensus favorite to win the ACC in 2015, as they have lucked out with replacing Jameis Winston with Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson, but I don’t think they will be able to make it 3 straight conference titles. I give the slight edge to Clemson, who gets the all-important game against the Seminoles at home and should be loaded offensively behind sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. I believe that victory will propel the Tigers to the ACC Coastal title, where I have them knocking off a dangerous Georgia Tech team.
ACC Champion: Clemson Tigers
With Oregon’s embarrassing loss to Ohio State in the national championship game, I think the Pac-12 lost a little bit of respect in regards to how it stacks up to the other power conferences. Personally, I wouldn’t be so quick to count out the Pac-12, as I think this conference has a number of teams who are capable of big things in 2015.
While the Pac-12 North figures to be a 2-team race between Stanford and Oregon, 5 of the 6 teams in the Pac-12 South will go into the season with the belief that they can win the division. With that said, regardless of who wins the North, I think the 2 best teams in the conference will be USC and UCLA. I give the slight edge to the Trojans, largely due to the fact that they get to host UCLA, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Bruins ran the table in 2015.
Pac-12 Champion: USC Trojans
The American Athletic will be adding in Navy, which will allow them to split up into two division and a conference title game. While there’s a number of quality teams that reside in the AAC, I don’t think there a team capable of making the playoffs. I actually have both divisions coming down to a tie-breaker.
I have Cincinnati and Temple tied a top the newly formed East Division and Houston and Memphis tied a top the West Division. I have the Bearcats beating the Owls at home and the Cougars knocking off the Tigers at home to set up a Cincinnati/Houston showdown in the inaugural American Athletic Championship Game. Despite having the Cougars beating the Bearcats at home in the regular season, I have Cincinnati getting their revenge in the title game.
American Athletic Champion: Cincinnati Bearcats
Notre Dame, BYU and Army West Point are the only 3 independent teams left standing, as Navy ended their 134-year run as an independent with the decision to join the American Athletic. While BYU will be a dangerous team with the return of star quarterback Taysom Hill and star running back Jamaal Williams, Notre Dame is without a doubt the top independent team of 2015.
The Fighting Irish due have to replace Golson, who left for Florida State, but they are extremely high on sophomore Malik Zaire and his ability to guide Notre Dame to a double-digit win season. With so many key players returning from injury and 10 starters back on what should be one of the better defenses in the country, the Fighting Irish are legit sleeper for making the 4-team playoff, as they will be more than deserving if they can go 11-1 or 12-0 given their brutal schedule.
Top Independent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
There were some questions whether or not Boise State’s reign as one of the premiere small conference programs would be able sustain the loss of head coach Chris Peterson. The Broncos answered that question in fashion, going a perfect 8-0 in league play and backing it up with a 28-14 win over Fresno State in the MWC Championship Game. While Boise State will have to work in a new starting quarterback and overcome the loss of star running back Jay Ajayi, they have 17 returning starters back from last year and should remain the class of the Mountain West.
Mountain West Champion: Boise State Broncos
Last year Conference USA featured one of the better teams in the country in Marshall, who opened up 11-0 before a shocking 66-67 overtime loss at home to Western Kentucky in the regular season finale. The Thundering Herd bounced back nicely, defeating Louisiana Tech 26-23 in the C-USA Championship Game and crushing Northern Illinois 52-23 in their bowl game. Many will have Marshall pegged as the team to beat in 2015, but I think the Thundering Herd are going to greatly miss 4-year starting quarterback Rakeem Cato. I have Western Kentucky overtaking Marshall for the top in the East, but I have them losing to a talented Louisiana Tech in the title game.
C-USA Champion: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
The Mid-American Conference has produced some quality teams over the years, but the one consistent threat has remained Northern Illinois. The Huskies have won 5 straight MAC West titles and own a 38-2 record inside conference play during the regular season during this stretch. While I could see Toledo or Western Michigan potentially putting an end to their run, I don’t know how you pick against the Huskies based off what they have done. Not to mention, Northern Illinois has 13 returning starters and yet another big time threat at quarterback in Drew Hare. I have the Huskies defeating East Division champion Akron in the title game.
MAC Champion: Northern Illinois Huskies
Not a lot of attention is given to the Sun Belt, which is without question the worst of the FBS conferences. However, last year the conference was surprisingly competitive, thanks in large part to the play of newcomers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, who were making their debuts as an FBS program after being an FCS power for many years. Georgia Southern caught the attention of the football world with near road upsets over both NC State (23-24) and Georgia Tech (38-42) in non-conference play and went on to run the table with a perfect 8-0 conference record, while Appalachian State closed out the year with 6 straight wins to finish 3rd in the Sun Belt. I have both of those teams, as well as Arkansas State finishing in a 3-way tie at the top with a 7-1 conference mark in 2015.
Sun Belt Champion: 3-Way Tie – Georgia Southern, Arkansas State & Appalachian State
(1) Ohio State over (4) USC
(2) TCU over (3) Alabama
(2) TCU over (1) Ohio State
PRESEASON TOP 25
1. Ohio State
8. Michigan State
10. Notre Dame
14. Florida State
15. Ole Miss
18. Georgia Tech
22. Penn State
23. Virginia Tech
24. Oklahoma State
25. Texas A&M
|ACC||Big 12||American Athletic||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|
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